I can’t wait to show you how to make arepas! I’ll be frying up these crispy, tasty cornmeal cakes over a campfire and stuffing them as breakfast sandwiches in an upcoming Sporting Chef episode.
What are arepas made of?
Arepas, or stuffed cornmeal cakes, have been a South American staple for thousands of years. They trace back to the native peoples of the Andean region, where corn was an essential crop.
Early versions were simple: people soaked the corn and ground it into meal. They shaped the corn with water into flat, round patties, which they then cooked on hot stones or over an open flame.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Americas in the 16th century, they introduced wheat into the arepa flour, and the mixture eventually found its way into many recipes. But like Southern Johnny cakes, arepas are best, I believe, with pure corn flours. (For those avoiding gluten, corn is also gluten-free.)
The basic recipe for these versatile patties is still super simple. In fact, arepas are similar to my fried cornbread / hot water cornbread recipe, which is based on my Granny Gray’s cooking.
Just Four Ingredients
I use use just four ingredients to make my arepas cakes:
- pre-cooked yellow cornmeal, also called masarepa
- vegetable oil
- warm water
The fried cakes are crispy and golden brown on the outside yet soft and moist in the middle. They take me back to my Granny Gray’s kitchen, where she would serve me a plate of her fried cornbread with my other favorite foods. I guess grannies all over the world have made a version of this amazing cornmeal bread.
How to Fill Arepas
The corn cakes are delicious by themselves, but as a dish, arepas are something more. They have deliciousness stuffed inside, too. As for the types of fillings, the sky’s the limit.
From Venezuela to Colombia and other countries, they have been served with a wide variety of fillings. Each area developed their own variations of arepas with distinctive ways to stuff them.
A version popular with Venezuelans is called Reina Pepiada, named after a reigning beauty queen. The filling is a delicious chicken salad with avocado and cilantro.
Another South American favorite is arepas con queso, literally “arepas with cheese.” Imagine something like a griddle-cooked grilled cheese sandwich with cornbread — it’s crisp, tender, and and cheesy all at once. Yum!
You can stuff arepas with chicken, black beans, guacamole, mozzarella cheese, onions, or the meat and vegetables of your choice. As mentioned, I like to make them as a breakfast sandwich. Anything that you can put on bread or corn tortillas, you can put in arepas.
Is an arepa like a pupusa?
Arepas are very similar to the pupusa griddle cakes made in Central America. Pupusas may be stuffed with cheese (like arepas con queso), squash, refried beans, or other tasty fillings. Tomato salsa is a popular side for pupusa and is also delicious with arepas. Try my salsa verde or green tomato relish as a topping!
How to Make Arepas
I like to mix the batter with my hands, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then use my palms to shape them into what looks like a hamburger patty. Then I fry up the cornmeal patties. They are great plain with chilis and soups. To stuff them, let the patties cool to just slightly warm before cutting them to make a sandwich.
How to Store Arepas
Eat arepas fresh from the skillet if you can. They are tastiest that way! If you need to store leftovers, store the cornmeal patties separate from the filling. They will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. To reheat, warm them in the oven or crisp them in an air fryer.
- 2 ½ cups lukewarm water around 100°F
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups pre-cooked yellow cornmeal masarepa – PAN
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- In a medium bowl, add the water, salt, and cornmeal and mix with your hands until well incorporated. Place a towel over the mixture and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet (I use a cast-iron skillet), add the oil and heat until it shimmers. Roughly divide the dough into 8 balls. Press the balls into 1/2-inch patties.
- When the oil is hot, add the patties in batches spaced about 2 inches apart. Fry on the first side for about 4 to 5 minutes or until deeply golden on the bottom. Flip to the other side and continue to cook for another 4 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Allow the arepas to cool completely. With a serrated knife, cut the arepas horizontally, creating two pieces for filling.